Heading into the 2010 off-season one of the most likely expected outcomes was a trade by the Rays of one of their veteran starts to clear a spot for Jeremy Hellickson. The Cubs, in need of depth, ended up being the suitor and ultimately landed Matt Garza, Fernando Perez, and Zachary Rosscup for Chris Archer, Robinson Chirinos, Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld.
As stated, the Tampa Bay MLB roster impact is simply the sliding in of Hellickson into Garza’s rotation spot while Chris Archer will head to Double-A or Triple-A, Lee will head to A+ ball, and Guyer will head to Double-A or Triple-A. Sam Fuld and Robinson Chirinos will both most likely head to Triple-A, but will compete for a back-up outfield and catcher spots respectively too.
Over in Chicago, Garza will likely slot as the number two starter behind Ryan Dempster with Carlos Silva possibly out of a job/shifting to a mop-up or long-relief role. Perez will head to Triple-A or compete for a back-up outfield spot while Rosscup will move to full-season A or A+ ball.
Garza, 27, does not quite look like the ace he was once projected to be, but he certainly has the skills and talent to be at least a solid #3 starter. He relies heavily on his plus fastball, throwing it more than 70% of the time, and using his slider, curve, and change less than 30% of the time. It is actually impressive that he gets as many strikeouts as he does given his pitch selection percentages which in turn tells you just how good that fastball indeed is and how well he commands it. The caveats surrounding Garza are his batting average on balls in play which has consistently been well below .300 for three straight seasons as well as fly-ball tendencies. Thus far he has managed to keep his HR/FB at reasonable rates over his career. Due in part to an excellent Tampa Bay pen, Garza has also managed a relatively high LOB% in the mid 70’s, helping to keep his ERA under 4.00. After all, his career ERA sits at 3.97. While no longer having to face designated hitters will certainly help Garza, it still does not take much imagination to foresee his ERA moving above 4.00. Given his age, there is still some room left for improvement and a possible K/9 bounce-back, but given the variability in his skill set and the caveats I outlined above, I would have difficulty chasing him if the bidding got into the upper teens.
As for the Cubs’ other acquisitions, Fernando Perez is a nearly 28-year old journeyman switch hitter who strikes out far too often for someone of his limited power skills. He plays decent defense and has above average speed, but profiles as a fifth outfielder at best. Rosscup is not a heralded prospect either. He is a 22-year left-handed starter and a former 28th round draft pick. He’s a crafty lefty who dominated the NY-Penn League (as he should as a former college pitcher) who showed excellent command, walking less than 2 batters per nine innings while striking out over 8 per nine. He will get his first taste of full-season ball this season. Given his age, he should perhaps be skipped over A-ball to A+ ball, but he does at this time necessarily project as a major league player.
Doing my best to resist puns, Chris Archer perhaps the prize of the deal for the Rays. The 22-year old right-hander has a deadly fastball/slider combination and does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground. His changeup earns mixed reviews, but has some potential to be a solid third MLB pitch. Worst case scenario would have Archer as a possible closer candidate on the strength of his primary two weapons. The main area of concern with respect to Archer has been the consistency of his control and his command. While he posted a 3.2 BB/9 in A+ ball earlier in the season it soared to 5+ in Double-A and it has often been at that level or above multiple times in his minor league career. There’s potential here, but there is still a good deal of rawness too.
Sam Fuld’s inclusion in this deal makes the Fernando Perez part of it feel like the Cubs and Rays were just flip-flopping Triple-A roster filler. While the Cubs may have gotten the younger player, the Rays got the better one. Fuld is 29-years old and has been up and down with the Cubs since 2007. He’s known for his solid contact-making and plate discipline skills as well as above average speed skills in the minors. In 2010 he walked 15% of the time while making contact about 90% of the time. Fuld, however, lacks power, and can be overpowered by MLB pitchers. Still, this is a skill set that would be interesting to see get a chance as a back-up outfielder.
Hak-Ju Lee only just turned twenty and is a few years away from the Majors. Right now his game is based around his speed as a potential 30 steals or more per season player and defense. Those two elements along should allow him to make the majors as a utility player. He is also already showing some selectivity, walking over 10% of the time in low-A ball and makes fair, but not great, contact. At 6’2” he is projectable and could add more power, but it remains to be seen. If he does not, he will have to improve a bit on his strikeout rates which are in the higher teens. I wouldn’t go as far as to recommend him as a taxi-squad/minor league draft player this year, but he is certainly someone to watch.
Brandon Guyer intrigues me. Yes he will turn 25 in just a few weeks, but he has good across the board tools and has a good contact-making, speed, and power combination. His weakness is in the on-base department because of his solid contact-making (86.5% of the in 2010)/aggressive approach. He has 20 HR/30+ steal potential, but there is no current opportunity available to him. He will head to Triple-A in 2011, but could challenge for a back-up job and if there are injuries, could at least see time as a right-handed half of a platoon.
Finally, Robinson Chirinos, is another journeyman player, but also another one with a good history of high-quality plate discipline skills. In 2010 he walked and struck out 13% of the time while showing mid-teens home run per season power with 15 at Double-A and adding 3 more in Triple-A. He came to catching late, but as a former shortstop, he moves well and has soft hands behind the plate and has acclimated to the position fairly well actually. Given John Jaso’s struggles against lefties, Chirinos could almost be a mirror image platoon partner for him in the long run.
It is impossible to declare a winner at this time. It really could go either way. The impact on the Rays side may not be felt for awhile as Archer and Lee, the two principle pieces on their end, are still both quite raw. So they could either be potential main-stays or be complete flops. Guyer, Chirinos, and Fuld could all play bit parts in Tampa Bay this year and as much as I am rooting for all three to get a shot to see what they do, it is unlikely to happen unless there are injuries or some unexpected ineffectiveness from their starters, and in the long run they could all end up back-ups or minor league roster filler. As for Garza and the Cubs, this is not a short-term move as Garza will not be eligible for free agency for a few more seasons. He has, as discussed, room for growth as well as plenty of potential to regress as his BABIP in particular suggests he should. Time will tell.